The United Kingdom is a high risk area for Islamic terrorism. There is a relatively large Islamic population which has been targeted by extremists. Many British Muslims come from families whose original roots were in Pakistan. The security services reckon that there is a hard core of extremists amounting to well over 1,000, and that at any given time there are a number of terrorist plots which are under investigation. In July 2005 there was a successful suicide bomb attack on the London underground and on a bus. Britain was a partner with the United States in the Iraq war.
Recently there have been a series of more specific warnings. The Yorkshire police have mounted armed guard on local power plants, including gas terminals, suggesting that Al Qaeda may be preparing attacks on energy facilities. Oil refinery and storage units are obviously highly inflammable; power grids are very vulnerable; nuclear power stations risk nuclear fall out if there is a major accident. In Britain, or indeed in many other countries, power is a natural target for Al Qaeda, which comes in its origins from the oil culture of the Middle East.
MI5, the anti-terrorist agency of the British Government, has recently issued a specific warning about biological warfare. British laboratories have been told to raise levels of security on stocks of more than 100 viruses and bacteria. According to a report in the January 25th issue of the London Times, MI5 has information that Islamic terrorists are receiving training in germ warfare. “The biological agents include polio, rabies, TB and avian flu.” Food poisoning bacteria such as E.Coli are also involved. Last November the Director of MI5, Dame Elizabeth Manningham-Buller, gave a more general warning that terrorists were trying to gain access to weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological and nuclear devises.
At the time of 9/11, Britain put about 50 biological agents on a restricted list. That number has now been doubled. The list of controlled substances now includes 45 viruses, 21 bacteria, 2 fungi, 13 toxins and 18 animal pathogens. The animal pathogens include foot and mouth disease, which caused great disruption to Britain’s farming industry in 2001. Some of the pathogens are extremely potent, such as Venezuelan haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal in a third of cases. Obviously biological weapons are capable of causing panic.
The British restrictions have been adopted on the advice of MI5 and of Porton Down, Britain’s biological research unit. Britain is following a similar path to the United States, which has also recently imposed new restrictions on laboratories handling dangerous biological substances.
At the same time, Britain has been dealing with a major terrorist trial, though fortunately one which concerns bombs which failed to explode. A group of young Muslims are alleged to have planned suicide bombings on a London bus and London underground trains on July 21st, 2005, shortly after the successful suicide bombings of July 7th. In each case the detonator did explode. But the main charge failed. The alleged bomb maker, a 29 year old, is alleged to have undergone jihad’s training in the Sudan in March 2005. The other accused are aged between 24 and 33. It almost seems surprising that there have not been more terrorist events of this kind in London.
The British security services certainly expect further terrorist attacks. Security in Britain has been raised to a much higher level since 9/11. Britain has the relative advantage of having had to respond to the terrorist attacks of the IRA and of Unionist militants in Northern Ireland and to some extent in the main island. British security forces since 1970 have had only too much experience of terrorism. Most other European countries have less experience, as does the United States itself. Yet the present threat is world-wide, and at a very high level of concern to all the world security forces.
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